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The wind is blowing off the Channel, a January gale cold as a workhouse, bending back the bare trees, scouring dead leaves from the hiding places where they lie rotting.
From the window seat in my lady's room, I watch a single carriage's progress up the street. The horse shakes his head against the reins, angry at having been led from his stall on such a day. He arches his neck and strains against the traces like a demon in harness, plumes of smoke exploding from his nostrils with each snorted breath. I cannot see the passengers. The carriage windows are closed tight, the curtains drawn against the cold. The driver has heaped a mountain of rugs about him to keep from freezing. He wears a scarf wound so high around his head that he could be a Muslim lifted from Persia by some spell and dropped onto this ice-blasted London street.
Despite the cold, I would be outside in a flash, if I could, but I cannot leave this house. Such are the rules governing my life, if one can call it a proper life-and I don't suppose one can.
The door across the street opens. A man comes out and pulls it quickly closed, as if he is in a very great hurry. It is the Carlsons' butler. He is a Scot, I think, although I no longer remember his name. He draws the snapping cloak more tightly about him and leans into the storm. The wind pushes back, standing him up. For a moment it seems he will blow away like a discarded newspaper, tumbling to the end of the street, catching finally on the iron fence that surrounds the Earl of Stemple's house, squeezing through the black forged bars, flying on toward Hyde Park, the heath, and whatever else is beyond, driven all the way to the Atlantic by thisheartless wind.
Invisible forces surround us. We mostly ignore them, while we are alive.
The storm would be the end of me if I could go out, which must be part of the reason I am bound to this house. There was never much to poor Annie Howard, and now I am as insubstantial as the whiff of smoke that rises from an extinguished candle. This tempest would blast me into nothing-ness with its kiss, and I would no longer haunt this house. The cook would not glimpse a shadow going up the stairs in the dark. The peculiar scent of soap would not rise mysteriously in the parlor on certain evenings. Soft footsteps would be heard no more in the hall outside the child's room. And the rocking chair beside his bed would not move gently back and forth in the middle of the night, as if of its own accord, unless some living soul were seated in it.
I used to love the feel of the wind. On my free days last summer I would go for long walks and take off my hat to better feel the sun against my face and the wind playing in my hair. Sometimes I went as far as Hyde Park, if I had a friend. (A girl, of course, one of the other servants from Mayfair.) I remember one time sitting beside the Serpentine when a raven's feather, blue-black and shiny, came floating down out of the sky and practically landed in my lap! Once I watched a tiny spider laboring in the grass, patiently building a silver web to catch the dew. There were two boys in a rowboat that afternoon. They raised their straw hats and waved. We ran nearly all the way home,laughing inside with the secret joy.
There are so many things you do not have the opportunity to do and know when you die young. I never had a beau. I never was in love. I regretted this very much at first, but now the disappointment has faded. Time passes and things that once mattered no longer seem important.
I was fortunate to find a position at Moore House, a girl without family, who possessed little more than the tortoise-shell comb I won for being the first in my form to learn the catechism. When I came here, this big house overpowered me. I sometimes got lost: There were so many rooms, all richly appointed, with ornate moldings and wood paneling. The furniture was exquisitely carved and inlaid, and I polished it until the air smelled of warm beeswax. The oil paintings on the walls, turned dark with age, showed men and women from long ago-people with stern looks and strange, antique clothing. The portraits frightened me a little bit, to be completely honest. But the chandeliers! They glittered at night like constellations of diamonds on fire in the sky. When I was alone, I used to stand and stare up at them. The chandelier in the entry hall was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I hardly notice these things now, and they give me no pleasure. I am losing interest in the world and its people. Sometimes I sit and listen to their conversations, but the words have become difficult for me to make out, a soft, drowsy muttering that seems spoken in a language I have mostly forgotten. I have trouble remembering all their names-except for the child. I will always remember him, and adore him. He is my special one, my golden boy, my beloved Andrew. Nothing could change that, not even my death.
He is the reason I linger between two worlds. I do not know how I can protect him, but I cannot continue on my way until the danger has passed. Who understands this better than I, who watched over the boy and happily gave him everything?
I wonder what became of my body. I hope it was buried in a nice place, where grass will grow in spring. I picture myself going to my rest in my Sunday dress, with the tortoiseshell comb holding my hair up. It is pleasant to think of myself sleeping peacefully in the ground, even with my grave covered with a blanket of black earth. In spring the sun will return, the soft rain will fall, and the grass will grow. There is a time for all things, and a season, and when our time has passed and our work here is complete, we move on
Soon, perhaps, when I no longer have to fear for the boy.
I close my eyes and think of the wind brushing across the frozen dirt on my grave as it once played in my hair. The cold no longer bothers me. I am beyond the cold now.
Even though I am dead, I begin to dream...